As heads of state of the East African Community try to forge a way of calming political tension in Burundi, Sylvère Nimpagaritse, a top judge, is feeling winds of pessissism blow around his country.
Nimpagaritse, the vice-president of Burundian Constitutional Court, was speaking to reporters in Kigali yesterday.
The judge arrived in the country on Monday evening after fleeing the rising insecurity on the country, telling international media that he “could not append his signature to a court that was under pressure to deliver to the whims of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party.”
He heaped blame on Nkurunziza, accusing him of violating the Arusha peace agreement and the constitution.
Protests erupted two weeks ago after the ruling CNDD-FDD party designated incumbent Nkurunziza as its candidate for the presidential election slated for June 26.
Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term goes against the constitution as well as the 2000 Arusha peace deal that ended a protracted civil war.
However, President Nkurunziza’s supporters say he is eligible to run again, given that he was elected to his first term by parliament -- not directly by the people.
The protests against the third term turned violent leading to an estimated 24,000 people fleeing to Rwanda, among them politicians.
“I fled because of insecurity related to my job. When this issue of third term was brought before the Constitutional Court to give a clear interpretation of the law, we were not allowed to work independently,” Nimpagaritse said.
“We first met on April 30, and there was a unanimous agreement that there was no way the law could allow the Nkurunziza to rerun.
“That same evening, we were supposed to deliver a ruling on the matter, but before we did, there were threats on our lives; we tried to resist, but on the evening of May 1, most people could not withstand the intimidation, they succumbed to the pressure and agreed to sign in favour of the president.”
He added that in the interest of his country and respect to the law, he decided to go into hiding and since then tried tracing his way out of the country and that’s how he ended up in Rwanda.
“I want to go back home as soon as possible, but only if the constitution is abided by…If the constitution and the Arusha agreement are not respected, Burundi is heading for the worst. If the President thinks the only way out to handle a problem is using force, then the people may as well react with force,” he said.
Seventeen people have so far been killed in almost daily protests. In a televised address on Wednesday, President Nkurunziza called for an end to the protests so that the elections could go ahead peacefully.
He vowed that, if elected, it would be his last term and said all those arrested would be released if the protests stopped. However, protests were still going on and several other politicians were fleeing.
Latest among those to flee is Jean Nzobonankira, the head of Partie de Mouvement pour la Solidalite et la Democratie (MSD), an opposition political party who entered Rwanda through Rusizi District yesterday.
Burundi’s constitutional court ruled on Monday that Nkurunziza was eligible to run for a third term. The ruling came a day before foreign ministers from the East African Community states headed to Bujumbura in an attempt to end the crisis.
In the same spirit, heads of state of the bloc will meet next week to discuss the crisis that is throwing the country into ruins.